Round 21: Bulldogs v Cowboys preview
Bundaberg Bulldogs hope to spring upset on the high-flying Cowboys
Sunday afternoon sees the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys clash in Bundaberg, in what shapes as an intriguing clash. With both sides finishing towards the bottom end of the ladder in 2021, they've had contrasting 2022 campaigns. If the Cowboys want to make a late charge for the Minor Premiership with Penrith lacking halves players, these are two points that they simply have to take and take comfortably.
Thanks to a partnership between the Bundaberg Regional Council and the Bulldogs, Canterbury-Bankstown have chosen to take their home game to the regional Queensland ground Salter Oval this Sunday. Having recently undergone upgrades, the facility is expected to host a full crowd of around 10,000 fans as it plays host to its first ever NRL match. Despite technically being a Bulldogs home game, support will likely be split between the two clubs, with the Cowboys having played at the oval in a trial match in 2016.
It's been a long season since these two teams met in Townsville back in round one, and despite the Bulldogs coming away with a scrappy win that time around, fans can expect a very different match this weekend. The first round clash between the two saw only two tries scored, along with some dismal attacking efforts throughout the eighty minutes. Since then the two clubs have found their groove in attack, and have been playing some simply must watch footy with ball in hand, so expect plenty of points this weekend.
After Trent Barrett parted ways with the Bulldogs earlier in the season, interim coach Mick Potter has received much praise for the brand of footy his team has been playing in recent months. After pulling off a big upset win over the Eels back in round fourteen the team's fortunes changed, and since then they've found victories against the admittedly struggling Tigers, Titans, and Knights. With rumours surrounding Cameron Ciraldo swirling, the coaching situation at Belmore is only going to get more interesting if Potter keeps manufacturing wins.
Potter has named the same 17 from last week for this weekend's clash. In-form wingers Jacob Kiraz and, of course, The Foxx, will look to continue their scintillating form. Matt Dufty officially left the club just a few weeks ago, and the man who took the jersey from him, Jake Averillo, will make his sixth straight appearance at fullback. Burton's bombs will be a tough test for the Cowboys' back three.
Despite some shaky form of late, the North Queensland Cowboys are sitting pretty in second place on the NRL ladder with just a handful or rounds to go. Following their bye and the deciding Origin match (where in-form half Tom Dearden made his debut) a disappointing loss to the Sharks put some question marks over the premiership winning credentials of the team. This was further scrutinised after their now infamous match against the Wests Tigers just a few weeks ago. They will want to find some form heading into an important finals series. A comfortable win over the Dragons last weekend would have done wonders for the confidence of the club. Having to fight for every inch early on, being able to get through the tough moments and run away with the game is just what the team needed following their recent hiccups. Their rookie back-rower Jeremiah Nanai continues to astound, going over for another double as he looks to make second spot on the 2022 top try-scoring list his own.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow returns to the starting side with Kyle Feldt out with a hamstring injury, and Jake Granville takes his now-vacant bench spot. Jordan McLean is still a few weeks away from making a return for the Cowboys.
The Canterbury Bulldogs haven't beaten North Queensland twice in one season since 2009, and will want to seize the opportunity this weekend.
Who to watch: After making his NRL debut in the centres back in round seven, Jacob Kiraz got another shot at first grade in round eleven on the wing, and since then he has been a consistent fixture in the Bulldogs side. With just ten NRL appearances to his name, he scored his first career hat-trick in his side's victory over the Dragons last weekend. With the Rugby League World Cup happening after season-end, Kiraz will be confident of taking a spot in the Lebanon squad, having represented the Cedars in two test matches as well as in the 9s World Cup back in 2019.
Bouncing between the interchange bench and 18th man all season, Jake Granville will be keen to show his worth as a bench hooker with the finals just a few weeks away. In what will be his 180th NRL appearance this weekend, the 2015 premiership winner and long-time Cowboy has been behind Reece Robson in the pecking order pretty much since the 2020 season. His performance off the bench will be critical to the result of this game.
The favourite: The second-placed Cowboys are understandably the favourites to get home in Bundaberg.